In his political and pop-culture infused off-beat commentary known as “Conner’s Burnt Orange Glasses”, Jeff Conner examines the win over Baylor and Texas’ BCS chances, only to find the Horns stuck in the middle.
“workmanlike: (adjective) characterized by the skill and efficiency typical of a workman; competent and skillful but not outstanding or original.”
My beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns thoroughly whipped the Baylor Bears last Saturday on a beautiful, sun-splashed Austin fall afternoon. They did not play poorly, and they did not play well. The crowd was large but not huge and interested but not passionate. Of all the football games I have seen in my life, this was one of them. Been there, done that; did not get the t-shirt. Or, as columnist George Will once noted, “It’s the sort of thing you like if you like that sort of thing.”
Personally, I blame male-oriented action-adventure flicks and the video games that followed them. Back in the day, actors with limited range but a lot of moxie like Steve McQueen could make car chase scenes look really good. But there was also breathing space in the film – time for the hero to chase a girl or tell off a higher-ranking but non-moxie cop.
Then “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” and their progeny came along. Not that either was a bad movie, mind you, but they set the pattern for all the big, dumb, loud guy movies that followed: more and more stunts, set closer and closer together, with our ever-more-beaten-up hero going through come-on-you-can’t-be-serious, more and more ridiculous challenges. Eventually, we reached the point of silly, nonsensical dreck like “Armageddon” and “Con Air,” where directors gave up even pretending there was a plot and substituted fast-paced noise and frenetic camera movements for actual content.
All the while, video game creators were making “first person shooters,” games where players moved from scene to scene blasting away at post-apocalyptic aliens, mutated monsters, slouching zombies, well-dressed Nazis or some bizarre combination of all the above. As gamers became more skillful and demanded ever-escalating challenges, the fast pace and dizzying onslaught of bad guys made action-adventure movies look like Tom Brokaw discussing pork belly futures.
Eventually, the message was clear: if there is any downtime, you are wasting your time. Meaningless, purposeless noise and movement is better than introspection and contemplation. Loud is better than competent. Noisy is better than well-made content.
Sports fans in general and football fans in particular are vulnerable to these social trends. Most of us knew going in the Baylor game would not be a close contest. The issues the Horns wrestled with last season – playing down to our competition, underachieving, letting lesser teams hang around too long – have vanished like Will Muschamp’s composure after a long Robert Griffin III scramble. Accustomed to the adrenalin-charged thrills of playing top 12 teams for an entire month, the relative calm of whipping the unranked, losing-record Baptists may have seemed as potentially boring as listening to Aunt Mildred prattle on about her lumbago. Or watching Winona Ryder act, take your pick.
As a result, the Baylor game was marked by a lack of passion, but not competence. The sleepy-eyed 11:00 a.m. kickoff, coming off last week’s heart-wrenching loss in Lubbock gave the whole game a sluggish, surreal vibe. You know the blurry, slowed-down, off-focus technique used in a movie when the good guy has been drugged or poisoned by the bad guys? The Baylor game had that kind of feel.
Accordingly, being drugged is the only logical explanation for some aspects of the Horns’ curious, disappointing play: stoinking not one but two field goals, Colt McCoy’s head-scratching interception just before halftime and the long, frustrating “Who has the quarterback? Who has the pitch man?” running plays given up to Baylor’s option attack.
Although it was not as thrilling as the video games we have enjoyed the four previous Saturdays, this was a solid if unspectacular win. Colt threw for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns against two pick-offs. The defense limited Baylor to a season-low (for us) 71 passing yards, including the defensive backups who played almost the entire fourth quarter. Our play was the very definition of “workmanlike” – “competent and skillful, but not outstanding or original.” We did what we had to do, scored a few style points and treaded water for another week with the BCS. In short, last Saturday we were the Goo Goo Dolls of college football.
The real curiosity was the Texas Tech-Oklahoma State game. On the Inside Texas forums, I warned many of you Oak State was not going to win in Lubbock, despite the swelled heads many Red Raiders are getting. Problem is, right now they are hotter than the overheated radiator on a Tech graduate’s pizza delivery car and are seriously beginning to believe they are a team of destiny.
Who knows, this may be Tech’s year, and the Horns may be screwed, at least in terms of a National Championship or the BCS. We are in good position right now at No. 3 (after the Penn State loss) and our solid play Saturday convinces me we will win out, but what happens if and when Florida hammers Alabama in the SEC Championship game? Could a win over a highly-ranked Crimson Tide team leap-frog the Gators over the Horns into the mythical championship game?
Same problem with Tech-Oklahoma in two weeks. Knowing Tech’s problems on the road, I would have given them no more than a 10% chance to win in Norman at the beginning of the season. After watching them bitch-slap the Cowboys like Madonna wailing on Guy Ritchie, I’d put OU’s chances of winning at no better than 60-40.
But a Sooner win may not necessarily help us either, I am afraid, because if OU beats Tech then they could potentially jump ahead of Texas in the polls for beating the No. 2 team in the country, despite the fact we had a double-digit win over the Dirt Burglars earlier in the year.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
Jeff Conner’s political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.